UphIll Battle: Active Challenge

13th December
Rating: (4 votes)

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A broken back, a mountain to overcome.

I stand next my brand new motorcycle, my face split into a wide smile. Climbing aboard I start the engine and she rumbles into life with the most gratifying growl. I've worked hard for the last six months to save for her and managed to successfully pass my test on the first attempt. I grip the bars, click her into gear and ride away. I lose myself for hours enjoying the windy country roads whilst taking in the scenery. Suddenly I hear the sound of grinding metal. Something is wrong. My rear wheel locks and I'm just a passenger as the bike careers into the kerb. I'm thrown over the handlebars and tumble along the bank, accompanied by the sickening soundtrack of breaking bones. Unable to move and consumed by an unimaginable pain, I lose all sense of time. Everything goes black.

Weeks pass by in a blur of white coats, operating theatres and morphine induced stupors. Eventually I wake long enough to understand the devastating words; "You've broken your spine, I'm afraid you'll never walk again.” I'm crushed.

Fast forward four and half years. I’m sat atop a mountain in Sapa, Vietnam, telling my story to thirteen new friends. The trail up the mountain had been a struggle for everyone, people were falling over due to the steep slopes and ankle deep mud that covered the ground. I was walking at the very back for the first hour, slowed dramatically by the weakness in my legs that cause me to limp and often fall over rough terrain. I plodded on, gripping my trusty hiking staff and feeling immensely grateful I'd remembered to wear my knee brace. The group slowed down to help encourage me along.

The hike remained treacherous for everyone and we trudged on miserably for hours. It had taken me mere minutes to fall over and only minutes later I fell again, then again, then again. I quickly lost count of the amount of times I slipped down muddy slopes and into freezing puddles. My legs were screaming with every step and due to the cold mountain climate, the shivering wouldn't subside. Every fibre of my being wanted to quit. Over and over I had to tell myself I could do it. 

“I expected this to be easy.” Grumbled an Irishman between shallow breaths. A chorus of mumbled agreements sprang up among the group before we returned to our silent trudge. I felt like I was ready to pass out as we approached the top of another steep slope; we had walked all day and evening was beginning to close in. Looking round, I noticed that everyone seemed to be flagging and overheard people discussing giving up. This distracted me from my own discomfort and I encouraged them to keep moving. The simple act of being able to support the group gave me a huge boost, it was as if I had gained access to a pool of energy I didn't know I possessed. For the first time in years I was no longer slowing people down but was instead able to help keep them moving and not be a hindrance as I had been at the beginning of our journey.

Out of nowhere a small village sprung up out of the mist. Within minutes we were sat around a large table underneath an awning, beers in hand. It was only then that someone asked about my hiking staff and leg brace. Their mouths agape they listened to me answer the same questions that you probably have. Why take on that hike, pushing myself through the pain and the tough mental battle? The answer my friend is simple, why not? I'd survived an accident that by all rights should've killed me and spent the last 4 years battling to get my life back. I beat the odds and learnt to walk again. Backpacking around the world is a thrilling experience for anyone but for me it felt especially precious because I very nearly lost the chance.

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